“Whenever I read children’s books to my kids about faith or God, I always felt bored and they did too. So I wrote When God Made You.” -Matthew Paul Turner
Our friend Deb gifted Matthew Paul Turner’s book When God Made You to my boys for Easter. Upon seeing a child of color on the front page as the main character, my heart skipped a beat - children’s books, especially Christian children’s books, representing kids of color as positive and main characters are few and far between. Not only that, but the words Matthew pieced together in this book are heart-stopping and even necessary - this book is a definite celebration for God's wild love for you. Something I hope my kids always know.
The Christian media industry is pretty far behind in this important regard, but I'm thankful for people like Matthew and his illustrator David who work hard to break down these barriers and work towards changing the routines of our culture.
I opened this book and was met with vibrant colors and words perfectly placed one after the other, flowing with ease, the pages painting a clear picture of God’s exuberant delight in the people He created.
I immediately ordered four more books for my nieces and our friend’s foster daughter. I then thought to myself, “I wonder if Matthew would be available for an interview and a giveaway.”
To my honor, he was happy to oblige.
It is my privilege to share with you a bit from Matthew Paul Turner: best-selling author, writer, storyteller, photographer, speaker, and blogger. He is one of the most influential progressive Christian voices in media and has been featured on The Daily Beast, CNN, Washington Post, Yahoo!, USA Today, The New York Times, The Colbert Report, Gawker, and many more.
NB: How did your decision come about to have the main character of your book be a girl of color?
Matthew: Honestly, that decision was made by the the artist, David Catrow; he is the person who took my work and created the imagery. I was thrilled.
However, including people of color in the illustrations was the one hope I had in talking with my publisher, but I never had a conversation with David about this. It was his decision to bring this one beautiful little girl, and her sister, and make her the star of the book. His work is beautiful.
I knew people would connect with her as the main character, but I had no concept that it would be so emotional for many people. I don’t even know what to say as a white guy; it’s hard to understand, but I am so glad people have experienced joy and connect with this book.
NB: Why did you feel like this book needed to be written? Why now, during 2017.
Matthew: I actually wrote this book in 2015.
I have kids of my own; whenever I read children’s books to my kids about faith or God, I always felt bored and they did too. The children's books so often dive way too deep, too quickly at times. They rarely discussed with passion God’s exuberant love and delight in each of us.
As a writer, some of my first were poems and songs were written in high school. I carried a little notebook around with me, writing things down constantly that rhymed...I did this up until I started writing my first children's book. This little skill/gift/talent of mine was just a thing I used to write in cards and such for birthday parties. I used it [this gift/ability/skill] to bring joy to people at events and holidays.
Over the years, as I discussed this frustration over children's books with my wife, she continually said I needed to write a children's book. This was never a lengthy and long conversation, just simple nuggets here and there, but these conversations stuck with me.
I had something to bring to this space [of children's books] to help others connect with. What I know about God and what God thinks about people are the two main factors that brought this particular book to be.
I think there are so few books regarding faith and God that rhyme; I wanted this to be an exuberant celebration of God’s absolute delight in us.
Its beautiful and I want my kids to know about God early on; I want my kids to know God celebrates them, and I do too.
NB: What would you say to white families who don't have any books representing kids of color or different race? Why could this be detrimental?
Matthew: Picture books are some of the very first visuals that children get of our world in all of its diversity and beauty and variations. If we want to raise kids who celebrate all people despite their race or creed wherever they are from, we need to introduce them to people who don't look like us. People who live in different places than us, who celebrate different things/holidays/events than us.
My wife and I have been very intentional about giving our kids a wealth of experience that celebrate a variety of people and cultures. We aren't planning big crazy events, but if there is an event we see offering a new perspective, we join it.
Kids need to see in books, movies, and media a variety of individuals who represent race, religion, ideas; this humanizes all of us. This puts us all on the same level, give us a little empathy and compassion and love for one another.
I am hesitant to speak into race as a topic too much in depth only because I am a white guy and speaking from a place of privilege. I know I don't have a clue what it is like to be a black family; I don't know what it's like to go into a book store and only see a small handful of books that represent my family, my people, my ideas, my culture. I have no clue what life feels like, for a person who is black or asian or hispanic.
NB: The illustrations are gorgeous. There are so many colors and vibrant pictures - how do you intend or hope the illustrations carry the message of your book?
Matthew: The illustrations bring a unique and beautiful perspective to the story.
The book plays out like a work of art in the sense that you can look at the book and fit your own idea into the story.
I love it because it doesn't look like your average Christian children's book. Its about this little girl who wakes up and wants to make the world a happier, more vibrant, beautiful place.
David brought the words to life in a way I never would have imagined being possible. As many times as I have thumbed through the pictures and spent time with these images, I still find new things in the pictures: the details, expressions, the faces, there is always something new to find. His work is brilliant.
He is also doing the follow up book, When God Made Light.
NB: I am a part of a few transracial adoption Facebook groups; families were very excited about your book. I am always looking for children's books to not only a display a child of color in a positive light, but also as the main character. Yours brought an extra element of God's love. Can you tell me about your follow up book, will the main character be a child of color again?
Matthew: When God Made Light was actually self-published years ago, but isn’t available anymore. It will be re-published. I am hoping I can bring a new element of space and beauty to children's books; I try to see this as something I can offer parents.
I won't be telling David what to do with the illustrations - anything I would request would require him to manufacture something. I want the illustrations to be up to David with his understanding of the art and his depiction of the words I write - this part is his art.
When God Made Light is about God creating light and variations of light to reflect different characteristics of humanity. It starts "in the beginning," but is not about the six day creation. It’s a celebration of light and the ending is about how we are just like the stars and the sun and sky, we are as dazzling as the twinkle in an eye.
I definitely want to represent people of all cultures, races, and creeds. I won't take credit for David's art and I think it is absolutely amazing that it has taken on a story of it's own. But representing diversity is absolutely a part of my heart and intentions; I hope other writers and publishers will see this and do similar things.
Matthew and his family live in Nashville, Tenn. "What sets Matthew apart from today’s throng of open-minded Christian authors is a talent for combining thoughtful, often opinionated commentary about a variety of faith-related topics with poignant, spot-on wit and self-deprecating insight. Lauded by Publishers Weekly as “one of Christianity’s fresh voices” and revered by some as the “Christian David Sedaris,” Matthew writes what many people are thinking and unwilling to say aloud." (source).
GIVEAWAY CLOSED: Winner is Shelley Skuster
We are thrilled to give away another copy of this book! I think every one needs this book and I want to see it on your bookshelf.
Entering is simple:
just comment below who in your life you would give/read this book to! (Your kids, your nieces/nephews, grandkids, friend's foster kids, etc).
Receive 5 extra entries as a subscriber to NBWrites.
Giveaway will be active/live from Thursday May 4th through Monday May 8th.
This post was not sponsored, endorsed, or administered by anyone but myself, Natalie Brenner.